You can drift away with lovely sounds at London’s famed botanical garden

The Hive, Kew ©Jeremy Gaunt

One of the great things about music is that it shows up everywhere when I travel — an ancient musical instrument in a Tbilisi museum, Stéphane Grappelli’s gravesite in Paris, a fado recital in Madeira, a Sufi record shop in Istanbul, Strawberry Fields in Manhattan.

Remarkably, I — and, by extension, you — can add London’s famed botanical garden at Kew to the list. And it’s all thanks to the bees — yes, the buzzy kind.

Kew, founded in 1759 by George III’s mother Augusta, has slowly built up a miscellany of buildings over the years, both to house plants…

Photo of album cover by Jeremy Gaunt

“Missa Luba” was everywhere in the late 1960s/early 1970s

You don’t have to look very far on the cover of the album “Missa Luba” to get an idea about how and when it came into being: the artists are identified as Les Troubadours du Roi Baudouin.

Baudouin (1930–1993) was in his seventh year as king of the Belgians when the music on the album was first produced in 1958. He was also monarch of what was then the Belgian Congo, with its capital Léopoldville named for his colony-grabbing great-great uncle, who at one stage ran the country as a private fiefdom.

The album — which continued to be released…

How to name an asteroid for your favourite rock stars

© Jeremy Gaunt

It is not easy to get yourself named if you are an asteroid. First, you have to be found by someone on Earth. Then boffins linked to the International Astronomical Union (IAU) give you a number. Finally, you get a name.

If you are a lucky asteroid, you will be named for a rock star.

In recent decades, an increasing number of minor planets, as asteroids are deemed, have been named for modern musicians.

For example, there is (3834) Zappafrank, which ranges from 307.7 million km and 455.6 million km…

Smithsonian Folkways Recording comes up with a new album that showcases his joyful sound

Credit: Guy Droussart

Imagine Ry Cooder’s guitar, the musical playfulness of Taj Mahal, and Huddie Ledbetter’s gravelly voice. Now add a touch of salt from the edge of the Caribbean sea and a bit of religious revival.

Welcome to the world of the late Joseph Spence, a blues-calypso-gospel-folk musician from the Bahamian island of Andros in the Atlantic some 200 miles north of Cuba. He should be far better known than he is, something Smithsonian Folkways Recordings is hopefully about to remedy.

The non-profit U.S. record label will release a full album of never-released Spence recordings on July 16 with “Encore: Unheard Recordings…

How the U.S. Postal Service has honoured musicians

Photos by author

Stamp collecting, by many accounts, has fallen out of favour. Indeed, when I sold a large, inherited collection a few years ago, it was not worth much. But for music geeks, value isn’t everything, so here I pay my respects to the U.S. Postal Services’ remembrances of musicians past.

As I trawled through the aforementioned inherited stamp collection, I found three sets of releases that I hung on to even though I have little interest in stamps per se.

They were all about music, you see, and I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t let them go.

The Robert Johnson…

An LP, with a calm, appreciative audience, hints at the raucous future

The Doors logo — Wiki Commons

Record Store Day is always a mixed moment for me. On the one hand, I love the idea of a day designated for the celebration of vinyl. The B side is that it has been taken over by what we used to call “The Man”.

Music companies pump out rubbish from their archives and some collectors buy stuff just to sell it on eBay a day or two later for five times what it is worth.

Nonetheless, I tend to buy something every year to keep the celebration part going. Usually, it is an old record from the bin. …

Photo of album cover taken by author

History in a record bin

One of the joys of rummaging through record bins — vinyl, that is — is that you come across things you have never heard of and would never find easily on CD or MP3. These finds offer glimpses of time gone by — sometimes, indeed, history.

Welcome to the world of Antal Kocze, “King of the gypsies”, and his band.*

The 10-inch album pictured above appears to have been cut in 1954. At the time, Kocze was the main draw in a place called the Monseigneur Bar in Vienna. …

Photo by Jeremy Gaunt

James, Duke of York

The city and state of New York are not, as might be imagined, named for the northern English cathedral city of York. They are named for James Stuart, future king of England and one of only eight people who have held the royal title of Duke of York since the 14th century.

He was a slaver — and arguably the catalyst for the explosion in transatlantic slaving that saw upwards of 12 million Africans kidnapped from their homes and shipped to the Americas.

James (1633 to 1701) is better known to history as King James II, the last Catholic monarch…

One of Britain’s best lets it rip with new album “These Wheels”

Papa George by Jeremy Gaunt

Anyone who loves blues and has been hanging around in London for the last few decades will probably have come across Papa George. He’s not a household name outside aficionados — particularly when you add the surname Papanicola — but nonetheless, he is one of the best bluesmen in Britain.

Whether it’s hammering out blues-rock with buddies in noted club venues such as the Ram Jam and the Bulls Head or picking away in a more toned-down fashion to entertain monied diners in an Oxfordshire pub, George can…

An unheralded vinyl from 1968 is one of the most influential ablums ever

When I was “challenged” on Facebook some time ago to come up with the albums that had most influenced me, there was no question but that The Rock Machine Turns You On would be high up on the list. I bought it in my teens and played it to death; it helped cement my fanaticism for music.

Released in 1968, the album — vinyl, of course — was remarkable on three levels. First, it only cost 75 pence (around $1) which at the time made it one…

Jeremy Gaunt

Music writer, historian, reviewer and broadcaster

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